Saturday, December 15, 2007


When Stephen Colbert’s wonderful term, “truthiness,” was named Word of the Year in 2005, it reminded us that we are being hit from all sides by words and phrases related to technology, politics, movies and television shows, youth culture, etc. And boy, are these piling up fast!

Now Merriam-Webster OnLine has just announced the 2007 Word of the Year is an acronym that comes from competitive online gaming forums. Written in “l33t” (“Leet” or “elite” speak) coined by die-hard techies (and hackers), the choice of the word shows all things automated are impacting our language. So here it is, the acronym for “we owned the other team”--w00t. w00t! is used when you or your team win. I guess yay! just doesn’t cut it anymore. So w00t can celebrate its victory with a loud, heartfelt “w00t!” There is a sort of poetic justice that the winning word is a word to celebrate winning.

Here are the runners-up for Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year. At least I’ve heard or read most of them! 8-)

facebook. This means that you became a member of or looked up the profile of or sent a message to someone on

conundrum. Conundrum has been around since 1645. It means a difficult problem or puzzle. It can also be a riddle that must be answered with a pun.

quixotic. Quixotic comes from the main character in Cervantes’ 1718 novel, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, Don Quixote. You know, the guy with the impossible dream. Maybe we could use more of them (dreamers and dreams!).

blamestorm. Blamestorming. How many of us have been subject to the whims of a boss or group of managers and administrators who sit around and delegate blame? Guilt by committee. Sometimes it feels as though passing the buck is a national pastime!

sardoodledom . The playwright George Bernard Shaw coined this term to criticize fellow writer Victorien Sardou’s work. Shaw combined Sardou’s name with the word “doodle” and came up with a word to mean a melodramatic play with a contrived plot and stereotypical characters. I love the sound of this word!

apathetic. In 1744, someone came up with this synonym for indifference. Unfortunately, we have cause to use it far too often.

Pecksniffian. This is another word that’s fun to say. Seth Pecksniff, a character in Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit, the inspiration for this term, was hypocritical in an unpleasantly charming way. Martin Chuzzlewit came out in 1844, but the term didn’t come into use until 1849.

hypocrite. And speaking of hypocritical, the word hypocrite dates back to the 13th century.

charlatan. Why do all of these all of these words bring up images of yukky people? Charlatan, used since 1618, means quack, fraud, thimblerigger, snake oil salesman. Think of the opening scene in The Music Man.

In related news, the Dec. 17, 2007 issue of People magazine tells us that the already massive Oxford English Dictionary has added some 2,500 new words and phrases. These include:

Omigod--“Expr. Astonishment or shock, pain of anger.” When I was a kid, saying this would get us seriously smacked. Even as I typed it, I felt the righteous hand of my mother whacking me upside the head.

Crapola--“Material of poor quality, rubbish; nonsense.” What a perfect way to describe a lot of the imported toys that have made their way into the American market!

Bogus--“Very displeasing or inferior; bad.” Tempting as it might be, I won’t make any political comparisons.

Smoosh--“Squash, crush, or flatten.” As in getting a rejection from an editor makes you feel smooshed.

Fricking--“Exressing amazement, anger, exasperation, etc.” (This word--and variations thereof--is a favorite utterance of Dr. Elliot Reid, a main character on Scrubs.)

Nyah--“Expr. A feeling of superiority or contempt.” Somehow, this works best said multiple times.

Buzzkill--“A person who or thing which dampens enthusiasm or enjoyment,” as in my eighth grade teacher.

Unibrow--“A pair of eyebrows that meet above the nose, giving the appearance of a single eyebrow,” also as in my eighth grade teacher.

So what are your favorite words? Are you fluent in l33t? Do you know the difference between phat and fat? Who knows what next year will bring. Word.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Today I received an email calling for a boycott of the movie, The Golden Compass. This boycott is based on the premise that since the author of the book is an atheist, this movie will turn its viewers (especially kids) into atheists, too. This is, mind you, before its actual release date. Of course, that’s the problem with most censors and the people that line up like sheep behind them--they’re rumor-driven. They never even read the book or see the movie before they begin their campaign to censor it.

As a librarian, I was aware of and/or subjected to numerous censorship attempts. Censor groups wanted Shel Siverstein's books pulled from the our public libraries and school libraries because he was gay and "he wanted to make everyone gay." (I ended up testifying at a public hearing over that one.) I was asked to pull Mark Twain's books because he was an atheist. Likewise, works by Noel Coward, because he was a gay atheist--a double threat. There were many, many more examples, including a group who wanted the Smurf books removed from our bookshelves because they were "communistic."

When I write my books, I don't try to make people Methodists. What sense does the phrase, "The author of this romantic comedy is a Methodist, so she's trying to get her readers to convert to her views" make?

Granted, there are books written specifically to proselytize. But how many people became atheists because they read Tom Sawyer? How many children became gay after their parents or teacher read them poems from Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends? Was there a mass conversion to Islam after people read The Kite Runner? Of course not.

If we judge books and movies by the religious and political beliefs of the person who wrote them, we're going to have a mighty limited selection from which to choose. Each work should be judged on its own merit, and maybe The Golden Compass movie is just what it's claiming to be--an entertaining fantasy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cats! (Not the Musical)

Anyone who thinks all cats are the same has obviously never lived with one. Notice I said “lived with,” and not “owned.” No one really ever “owns” a cat.

Cats are persnickety. (Don’t you love that word?) They decide when--and if--they’ll suffer your presence.

Cats were revered in Ancient Egypt. If you ask me, that spoiled it for the rest of us.

You read a lot about cats in books. That’s because of the writer-cat connection (more about that later.) There’s Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who” series, which features Koko and Yum Yum. These clever felines help solve murders.

Then there’s Cleveland Amory’s The Cat Who Came for Christmas. Amory loved animals to the point where he was buried beside his cat, Polar Bear.

Did you know there’s even a national Cat Writers' Association that gives awards, including the "World's Best Cat Litterary Award?" Shirley Rousseau Murphy, whose mysteries feature Joe Grey and Dulcie, has won several of these honors.

Geneen Roth learned the emotional benefits of being with a cat, and wrote about her experiences with Blanche in her book, The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed It: Over the Edge and Back with My Dad, My Cat, and Me.

I know too well about that “craggy hole.” We lost my dad and my cat within a couple of weeks of each other. They both left emotional holes that will never be filled. After their deaths, our home was so quiet it was as though the house itself was in mourning.

A few weeks later, we went to the Humane Society. Two kittens, one a regal female tabby, and one a male American domestic with beautiful, swirly sides, picked out my daughter, Jessica, and me. My husband, David, who insisted on naming them, dubbed the male Blaise Pascal, later shortened to “Pascal,” and the female Ada Lovelace. Pascal (1623–1662) was a French mathematician and philosopher. Augusta Ada King (1815-1852), Countess of Lovelace, mathematician, Lord Byron’s daughter, and the world’s first computer programmer, is known for her work on an early mechanical computer. This is what happens when a computer engineer names your pets.

Back to the writer-cat connection. The two kittens brought joy back into our house with their constant antics. However, both of them were determined to undermine my writing time--Pascal by chewing through my computer cables, and Ada by demanding to be held the minute I sat down at my desk.

Last year, at only six years of age, Pascal died suddenly from a misdiagnosed fatty liver disease. The tragedy devastated all of us, and Ada wandered through the house looking for him. We decided the best thing to do was to get a companion for Ada. Wrong.

My husband and my daughter went to the Humane Society and came back with Chewie Bacca, a lively orange tabby with hair the color of his namesake’s fur. We did everything in the book to introduce “Chewie” to Ada. Nothing worked. Every time he came near, the normally even-tempered Ada would hiss and growl. Eventually, she developed laryngitis, and had to be treated for a throat infection. Chewie loves the hissing game, and still takes as many opportunities as possible to try to get her to play.

Like his predecessors, Chewie is determined to destroy my writing career. And what a bag of tricks he has! When I’m barefoot at my desk (writers aren’t known for their dress codes), he bites my toes until I pay attention to him. If I wear socks, he tries to pull them off. When I really get desperate and put on my shoes, he pulls on the strings. Chewie never gives up--he has enough energy for six or seven cats. If I’m deep in concentration, he makes a dive for the cables. If I’m extra deep in concentration, he throws his bedraggled mouse toy at me and cries at the top of his lungs until I play fetch with him.

I have a friend whose cat lounges quietly by her side while she writes her columns. Where’s the challenge? Still, I wouldn’t trade her laid-back pet for either Ada or Chewie. But don’t tell them. They already have the advantage.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Today is Blog Action Day, a day when all over the world, people can use their blogs to speak up about the environmental issues that concern them. We’ve known the earth was in trouble for many years now. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring came out in 1962. My friends and I read her ecological call to action in school, and then, on the way home, waved at the crop dusters as they sprayed huge yellow clouds of chemicals on the fields next to our houses. Since we lived on the outskirts of Phoenix, big companies often used our side of town as their dumping ground.

Did man’s abuse of our environment affect us? You bet it did. On our little block alone, we had a young girl who died from leukemia, at least ten people who got cancer, and two of us who developed lupus. Down the road from us, people developed cancer as well a strange blood disease, earning that neighborhood the designation “Maryvale Cancer Cluster.”

The first Earth Day took place on April 4, 1970. I remember it well because I’d transferred from the University of Arizona to Grand Canyon College, a small Baptist school with an excellent teacher training program. U of A had become a hot bed of student activism. We marched against the war. We marched for civil rights. We demonstrated against things we felt were wrong. Coming from this politically active background, I organized the first Earth Day demonstration at Grand Canyon College. Two of us participated, Karen Smith and myself. We heard a lot of So What?’s that day.

So What? Ignoring the fact that we’re in a desert with limited water supplies, Phoenix and its surrounding communities--Glendale, Scottsdale, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Peoria--continue to woo developers and encourage unfettered growth. Houses are built on farmlands full of chemically saturated dirt. It’s an environmental house of cards.

Phoenix used to be a haven for people with asthma and tuberculosis. In fact, many of us moved here for that very reason. Today, it’s a smog-infested valley rife with the pollen from trees and plants people brought with them from other areas of the country. Allergies abound, and asthmatics often have trouble breathing.

Those of us who’ve seen these changes realize that they didn’t happen overnight. Phoenix didn’t go from a place with some of the cleanest air in the country to one with some of the dirtiest. It was the little things that messed up the Valley of the Sun, and it will be the little things that get it back on track.

The trick is, we all have to do something, even if it’s to change one thing. We can:
• Recycle more
• Turn off the tap water while we brush our teeth and turn it back on to rinse
• Buy lo-flow toilets when it’s time to replace the one we have
• In desert areas, landscape with xeriscape plants, those that require little or no water and replace our lush grass lawns with natural rock
• Plan errands in groups so we make one trip instead of several small ones
• Use the new low energy light bulbs

Or we can do nothing and listen to an administration that didn’t believe in global warming.

Is the sky falling? It looks as though it is, and the only thing we don’t know is whether it will come crashing down on us or our kids.